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10 tracks to help soothe the mind

One critic’s favorite music for tuning out and forgetting about the world

Big Thief's song “Cattails” sways and ripples like the reeds it was named for. The band performed at Boston Calling in 2018.Ben Stas for The Boston Globe/file

As the headlines start to resemble a dystopian novel, here are 10 tracks I’ve been using to soothe the inevitable spikes of anxiety and slip into a world apart from pandemic-induced isolation. Some are old favorites; others, I’ve found while panning for gold on Bandcamp, the best place on the Internet to find music you didn’t know you needed. Try listening while doing that task you’ve been putting off, or while taking the space to sit quietly. Take what you like, leave the rest. Whatever connects you to a calmer place is the thing that is best for you.

Midori Takada and Lafawndah, “Le Renard Bleu”


When the Japanese percussionist and ambient music maverick Midori Takada released her first new material in 20 years, she conjured forests hung thick with chimes and bells, and fields bloomed with her array of mallets. Singer-producer Lafawndah elevates it yet another level with her mix of medieval-esque vocalizations and wandering chants. If you like this, settle in with a cup of green tea for Takada’s 1983 magnum opus, “Through the Looking Glass.”

Hiss Golden Messenger, “Highland Grace (Live)”

A tender, gospel-tinged lullaby from a troubadour of the North Carolina hills. Live album “Forward, Children” benefits public schools in the band’s home base of Durham. Have I ever missed the sound of a cheering crowd so much?

Wild Pink, “There Is a Ledger”

With this track, an epically introspective New York band hands me a small moment of loveliness in uncertainty.

Big Thief, “Cattails”

Before Big Thief brought me last year’s most blistering guitar solo with the slow-burning “Not” (off October release “Two Hands”) they lit a candle lantern with the song “Cattails,” which sways and ripples like the reeds it was named for. Listening to the entire “U.F.O.F." album, for that matter, has been an anchor in claustrophobic moments.


Arthur Russell, “A Little Lost”

With a flick of his cello’s bow, this jewel of songwriting (gone too soon) captured wistfulness and longing for connection like no other. This one, off posthumous compilation “Another Thought,” is for everyone holing up separately from their sweeties, whether by necessity or by choice. If you like it, try streaming the album on YouTube, then take a long swim through Russell’s world at Audika Records.

Julianna Barwick, “The Magic Place”

Barwick, who constructs sunwashed sonic cathedrals with just her voice and a delay pedal, has been helping me fall asleep since 2011. If you’ve already listened to that one Enya CD too many times, give her a try.

Stile Antico, “Super flumina Babylonis (Philippe de Monte)”

The world of Renaissance choral music is full of sonic oases. Take anything by the perennially excellent English vocal ensemble Stile Antico, which was supposed to come through town for a concert this April.

In Love With a Ghost, “Goodbye Earth I’m Taking My Spaceship to Explore the Universe”

Gentle pastel electronica to curl up with a book and/or a cat. Makes cramped spaces feel cozy.

Dahù, “Shoes Off”

I stumbled on this Lisbon-based duo, featuring accordionist Inês Lopes and guitarist Pedro Prata, while trawling through the “balfolk” tag on Bandcamp over the weekend. You don’t need to know anything about French folk dancing to enjoy this dreamy, intimate tune by Lopes.


Brooklyn Rider, Beethoven: Quartet No. 15 in A minor, III. Molto adagio — Andante

Brooklyn Rider’s new album “Healing Modes," which dropped March 27, takes Beethoven’s deeply felt ode to healing as its centerpiece. Come for the hymn of thanks, then stay with the album for new commissions by Caroline Shaw, Du Yun, and more.

Zoë Madonna can be reached at zoe.madonna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.

A.Z. Madonna can be reached at az.madonna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.